Friday, November 30, 2007

A New Push to Roll Back ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

Thom Shanker and Patrick Healy, The New York Times: Marking the 14th anniversary of legislation that allowed gay men and lesbians to serve in the military but only if they kept their orientation secret, 28 retired generals and admirals plan to release a letter on Friday urging Congress to repeal the law.

“We respectfully urge Congress to repeal the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy,” the letter says. “Those of us signing this letter have dedicated our lives to defending the rights of our citizens to believe whatever they wish.”

The retired officers offer data showing that 65,000 gay men and lesbians now serve in the American armed forces and that there are more than one million gay veterans.

“They have served our nation honorably,” the letter states.

The letter’s release comes as rallies are scheduled on the Mall by groups calling for a change in the law, which is known as “don’t ask, don’t tell” because it bars the military from investigating soldiers’ sexual orientation if they keep it to themselves.

Although the signers of the letter are high-ranking, none are of the stature of Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when the policy was adopted and who now argues for its repeal. General Shalikashvili refocused attention on the issue earlier this year when he wrote that conversations with military personnel had prompted him to change his position.

The current generation of Americans entering the armed services have proved to him “that gays and lesbians can be accepted by their peers,” the general wrote in an Op-Ed article published in The New York Times on Jan. 2.

“I now believe that if gay men and lesbians served openly in the United States military, they would not undermine the efficacy of the armed forces,” General Shalikashvili wrote. “Our military has been stretched thin by our deployments in the Middle East, and we must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job.”

From the time the policy became law through 2006, just over 10,000 members of the armed forces have been forced from the military under the policy, according to government statistics. ...

According to the Pentagon, the number of service members discharged under the policy has declined noticeably since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, dropping to 612 in the 2006 fiscal year from 1,227 in the 2001 fiscal year.

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